Pandemic vs endemic

SEPTEMBER 12 — Almost two years later, Covid-19 remains the dominant topic of the day. Every day. 

In Singapore after months and months of restrictions, tracking applications, circuit breakers and vaccinations, cases are still rising. 

The government task force in charge of overseeing Singapore’s response to Covid-19 is now foreseeing more than 1,000 cases a day in the coming weeks. Up from around 500 a day now. 

The totals we are seeing now are far, far higher than the 30 to 40 cases a day we saw in May when the government declared the country would go back to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) restrictions.

Basically, cases in the general population are threatening to reach unprecedented highs but restrictions are not being ramped up. 

In fact, in many cases restrictions appear to be diminishing.  

Quarantine at the borders has been reduced to 10 days instead of the previous 14 days.  

This is because the Delta variant apparently has a shorter incubation period and therefore 14 days of observation isn’t needed.  

The argument in favour of lighter restrictions in the face of rising cases is fundamentally that high vaccination rates in Singapore have changed the equation.  

Vaccines have now lowered the mortality rate of Covid-19 to a point where the disease can be allowed to spread and to an extent become endemic.  

Even prior to vaccinations, fatalities from Covid-19 in Singapore were very rare. In total, the country has recorded 58 deaths over 70,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and the overwhelming majority of the deaths have been in elderly people above 75 years old.  

The idea of living with Covid-19 will not be easy. . — TODAY pic
The idea of living with Covid-19 will not be easy. . — TODAY pic

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So there is definitely logic in the government’s determination to keep things open. 

But this idea of living with Covid-19 will not be easy. The general population remains very scared of the disease. We keep hearing about new variants and vaccine escape. Honestly, it is essential for the narrative to cover the nuances. 

Other metrics we could continue to focus on that will deliver more facts than fear — ICU capacity, or the number of healthy young people dying from the disease per 1,000 cases.  

Now the government wants to stop reporting figures of unlinked cases and reduce the frequency with which it announces Covid-19 infections. 

I would argue these changes are necessary so we can view this catastrophe fully in context. Now the government seems to be saying the vaccine allows us to step out from the shadow of Covid-19 which is great, but even this will require quite a change in mindset. 

Denmark recently achieved an 80 per cent vaccination rate against Covid-19 and has dropped all Covid related restrictions — including masks, restrictions on mass gatherings and events.   

Singapore has a similar population, vaccination rate and GDP to Denmark so shouldn’t we move in the same direction? But even wealthy and well resourced Denmark is seeing about three deaths a day from Covid-19. 

That’s far more than Singapore and the question is whether Singapore is prepared to accept even this level of mortality? 

As difficult as it will be, we must begin to work out how if we want to shift from pandemic to endemic. 

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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